– By Carly Twehous –
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
When it premiered, This Is Us turned heads, twisted hearts, and pretty much left its audience sobbing on the floor at drop of a single, brilliantly executed plot twist. It’s so simple, and in hindsight, I should’ve seen it coming, but I was as blindsided as the rest of the audience. It was like a gut-punch, a jaw-dropping Ah-Ha! moment in which all the tiny clues and all the evidence lines up and points to the inevitable: The stories we were following did not take place even in the same century. That couple? The parents of the rest of the A-B-C subplots.
Seriously. I should’ve seen that coming. It’s a testament to the brilliant writing and masterful storytelling that this show has demonstrated from episode one. It’s raw and authentic, because, let’s be honest, nothing gut-punches you or breaks your heart like your own family.
With all the dramatic plot twists behind us (save for the still unanswered question of how Jack Pearson died), This Is Us has a little breathing room to tell the complete and unbiased history of this family. We’re shown the family-don’t-end-in-blood bond between Kevin and Randall, who, although they’ve had their own fist-fights and sibling rivalries, they’re truly brothers, down to the very core. We see young Kate’s close relationship with both her parents, paralleled beautifully with her still-budding relationship with Toby.
And then, of course, there’s Jack and Rebecca, stuck thirty years before, raising a rather peculiar set of triplets. The way they fight, the way they love, the way they lay down their lives for their family so beautifully informs the choices faced by the Big Three. Everything, from the smallest reaction to stressful situations to the deep and unresolved scars from childhood, is fair game. Nothing is safe from influence of Jack and Rebecca’s decisions, their failings, the way they break each other’s heart.
Randall shares his father’s temper and need for control, but catches himself from making the same mistakes Jack made in his own marriage. Randall’s story is so interesting to watch because of how ironically it mirrors the life and times of his adoptive parents, Jack and Rebecca. He might not be related to the Pearson’s by blood, but there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he is Jack and Rebecca’s son. More importantly, Randall is Kate and Kevin’s brother, a founding member of the Big Three.
Kate’s reaction to her traumatic miscarriage is both informed by her past and sanctified by her present outlook on family, especially her bond with her brothers. The miscarriage itself (and, dear Lord, bring the tissues for that episode) is not something that’s been done on television in recent memory. All other memorable depictions of miscarriage seemed to use the inherent tragedy as a plot device to simply write out an unwanted pregnancy. In all other instances, the emotional impact of miscarriage was swept under the rug, shrugged off, and forgotten. With Kate, however, we first saw how much she wanted this pregnancy, before the chance of motherhood was cruelly taken from her. Kate’s reaction is so authentic because, contrary to what’s portrayed most often on television, miscarriage is not a plot device to write off an unwanted pregnancy without the taboo of using the word “abortion”. Miscarriage, for millions of women, is a tragic reality and it should never be taken lightly.
Luckily, This Is Us never really shies away from an opportunity to break the audience’s heart. We’re given the entire spectrum of emotions that come with miscarriage, from the initial reaction, to the stages of grief, and, ultimately, the reliance on family to get through this traumatic experience.
At first glance, This Is Us might appear to be just another twist-driven melodrama meant to temporarily capture the attention of the audience enough to keep ratings high enough for renewal. Except this show is so much more. It’s about race and family dynamics and sexism and mental health and recovery from loss and the sanctity of marriage and how hard you have to fight for marriage.
The best part? This show is about regular people, so aggressively ordinary that anyone, in almost any walk of life, could hold up a mirror and see pieces of themselves in every reaction, every heartbreak, every choice these characters make. And, of course, this show continues to break your heart, but, hey. That’s what family is for: Always there to stir the pot, to cause conflict, tears, to rile up anger like nobody’s business.
The fact of the matter is that family always, inevitably breaks your heart, but if you’re lucky—and I mean really, really lucky—family will always be there to pick up the pieces and stitch them back together.